This week I’ve attended two book signings within 80 miles of each other. The first, on Monday November 21st in Bakewell in Derbyshire, was a personal journey back to where I grew up so it was very special. Bakewell Bookshop is in a beautiful market town in the Peak District, famous for its Bakewell pudding confectionary. It was unfortunate for most of us girls in the 70s as the boys used to yell, ‘Oi, Bakewell tarts!’ as they piled out of the local comp.
The second was yesterday, November 23rd at Waterstones in Birmingham. This was the official launch of The Cruelty of Lambs and when I saw some of the names listed on their events board, it made me realise that I was very fortunate to be offered such a prestigious location.
Whilst being an experienced speaker and presenter, I had no idea what to expect or what was expected of me so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts and tips for anyone about to launch their creation into the world.
You know the old saying? Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. No matter how experienced or confident you might be in your non-writing/non-speaking field, preparation is so important. As soon as you’ve got a confirmation of your signing date, get in touch with the owner of the bookshop, if an independent, or in the case of Waterstones, the Event manager. Build a relationship with them on social media if you can’t visit. Show interest in other events they are hosting and comment positively.
Do a bit of research into how other people conduct their book launches/signings. Connect with authors on social media and ask for the benefit of their experience. I’ve squirmed when I’ve listened to an excellent writer who has arrived at the bookstore disorganised, clearly with a plan to wing it and hope for the best.
Usually a bookstore asks you to talk about your book. My event at Waterstones was listed as ‘An Evening with…’ It isn’t a flurry of your new signing pen, a quick message ‘Enjoy the book!’ then gone. Your readers expect and deserve more than that. On both occasions I talked about the themes in my book and read a paragraph or two to illustrate them in the storyline. As a professional trainer, I like the interactive approach. I want to know what my audience thinks. A question and answer session can fall a bit flat unless you help lead it. Some people want to know why you write, whether you’ve made your fortune, where your ideas come from, why you write romance/crime or whatever your chosen genre is. Establish your appeal as an author by being authentic and honest. People buy from people. No matter how well written or thrilling your book is, if you don’t engage then you can lose a sale. It’s common sense business practice.
This is more than a mere suggestion. It’s an essential. Dress the part. I don’t mean if you write romance you make a dramatic entrance in the style of Barbara Cartland or if you’ve written a brilliant alternative to Lord of the Rings, you don the costume of your key character. Smart casual, neat, clean fingernails (people do observe your hands when you are signing their books), brushed hair… you know the things I mean. Yes, it’s common sense but I’ve seen people turn up in ripped jeans and smelling of cigarette smoke. Am I being judgemental? You’re in business. If you want to sell your book then appearance and first impressions matter more than you can imagine. Try to come across as friendly and approachable. A smile goes a long way in relaxing both you and your audience.
Outline the themes of your book but not the whole story line. Avoid spoilers. It’s difficult and requires some careful planning. The key themes of my book are; the effect of unemployment on a family, lack of money/debt, spousal abuse, mental health and male friendship. I took one of my five star reviews on amazon.co.uk and read that to the audience as how one reader summed up the book. Your job is to whet appetites. At the Bakewell signing, one author talked a lot about some difficult issues in her book but said, ‘As you read it, you will see why Cairo has such an important influence on the story.’ It’s a hook, a temptation but that’s marketing.
What to read? Many people don’t like being read to especially if they get the impression you will go on for ages. I chose small chunks, a paragraph or two, to illustrate the themes I was talking about. This meant there was some food for discussion after each reading. Watch the faces of your readers as they inwardly scream, ‘ more, more.. What happens next?’ You are the story teller. Make it compelling. Leave them wanting more.
Timing is critical. It might be your show but it’s your audience you need to take into account. The last thing you want to experience is someone looking at the clock or getting up to leave. Keep it pacey, punchy, use short pauses to allow people to take in what you’ve said and read their faces. Are they sending you a message that it’s time to wrap up? I’ve been to book launches where the author had finished in ten minutes and I felt cheated. At others, there’s been no awareness of time and the staff have poked their head around the corner and said… locking up time!
Let your audience be the barometer.
My final suggestion is to enjoy the experience. Whether you have a handful of people there or a half a city you owe it to them to provide a value for time experience. If you look as if you don’t really want to be there because after all writers stay at home and write and don’t want the messy business of dealing with people… then don’t be surprised if the sales of your book don’t reach their full potential.